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Workplace Issues: Who needs a CSI when you have Uncle Ed

CSI is one of the most popular shows on television. It spawned a number of spinoffs: CSI:NY, CSI: Miami and, now, CSI Cyber. Regardless of the name or the cast, the theme is the same. Horrific crime that seems impossible to solve but for the ability of the members of the CSI team. The case is always solved when the team finds some hidden piece of evidence. We all think, “Wow, how’d they think of that!” Then there is the dramatic confrontation with the criminal, the admission of guilt, and, finally, handcuffs. That’s the show in a nutshell. Millions of people watch these shows every week. It’s good entertainment, but probably not reality.

In most cases, the police don’t need the hi-tech wizardry we see on CSI. In the real world, there isn’t a lot of the “who done it” component to crime scene investigation. It’s a lot more like: police arrive, police find dead man in living room, dead man has dent on head, cast iron skillet lays beside his body, roommate is seated on the couch drinking a PBR, and roommate admits fault. Case closed. That doesn’t make a good television show, but it’s reality.

The same holds true for workplace issues. Most of the time, workplace problems are open and obvious but we treat them like Uncle Ed. We all know an “Uncle Ed.” Uncle Ed is the obnoxious guy that married your sister. You see him once a year during the holidays and that’s enough to last for the entire year. The entire family knows Uncle Ed is a problem but there isn’t one person who will take a stand. Why? Generally, it’s because the matriarch or patriarch of the family wants everyone to “just get along during the holidays.” After all, Uncle Ed can be a pretty decent fellow when he’s not around his friend, Jack (Daniels). After enough holidays watching Uncle Ed cause problems, family members begin to make excuses for not attending. It doesn’t take a team of CSI investigators to determine that family holidays would be more enjoyable if Uncle Ed is given “the talk” or “the boot.”

Problems in the workplace left unaddressed will fester and cause your company to lose valuable talent and may get you sued. Employees expect management to address problems that are brought to management’s attention. When management fails to address problems and is not transparent (within the confines of the law), it loses credibility. Credibility is all you have and it’s what keeps employees from walking into the office of lawyer. The last place you want an employee going, if they have a work problem like sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, is a lawyer’s office.

A company cannot afford to have talented people leave because of problems that, like Uncle Ed during the holidays, are not addressed. Sure your company may be large enough to absorb some loss of talent, but eventually you will lose a rock star employee or get hit with a lawsuit that will materially impact your bottom line. You don’t need a CSI team to see the problem. It’s sitting there with a PBR in hand.

The workplace problem is merely a symptom of a larger issue. Either your company doesn’t do anything when matters are reported and/or members of management are talking the talk but not walking the walk. Members of your workforce are more sophisticated than ever. They understand what your company is obligated to do under the law, they know what you promised in the handbook, they watch how problems are addressed, and they watch the actions of your management team. Don’t fool yourself, your employees notice when a manager professes to comply with company policy but in practice, acts like the policy does not exist. Have you trained your management team on how to address workplace issues proactively or have you sent the message that you just want everyone to get along? If it is the latter, you will lose talent and, eventually, you will get sued.

I remember a law firm that had a personnel problem. It involved a young, extremely intelligent, but slightly abrasive paralegal. Rather than address the problem and provide coaching, the firm managers decided to “let it ride.” The problem, between this young paralegal and the associate attorneys and more senior paralegals, kept getting worse. Finally, at the close of an office meeting, one of the managing partners invited feedback from those in attendance. Weeks of frustration spilled onto the table. It was a blood letting and it was the young paralegal that was losing the blood. After everyone finished , the senior partner devised a solution. The solution wasn’t bad for someone reacting on the fly. The meeting concluded. The law firm managers left the meeting with the perception that they were the Dr. Phil’s of the legal world. Life was good. That is, until the next morning when the young paralegal quit. The firm lost someone they had spent a lot of time and money training. More importantly, they let a problem become a full-blown crisis and, in the process, lost the trust and respect of their associate attorneys and their paralegals. Soon after, others left the firm.

The law firm, like many employers, did not understand that today’s employee has different priorities than those held by employees fifty(50) years ago. Today’s worker places more weight on job satisfaction than money. Today’s worker expects you to address problems that are brought to the attention of management. Today’s worker will leave when you have lost their trust or are not transparent. The choice is yours. You can have a holiday dinner with the entire family or you can have an intimate holiday dinner with Uncle Ed. Just you and Uncle Ed and some CSI reruns on Netflix. Pick your poison.

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